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Although casual business attire tends to be a popular option among employees, some companies encounter problems implementing casual dress policies. Many problems arise when companies describe their dress codes using vague words like “appropriate,” “professional,” and “businesslike,” without spelling out a specific policy. This can create confusion among workers and make people feel uncomfortable trying to interpret the right way to dress for work.

The biggest problems employers face with these policies may be how to modify them, enforce them, and adapt the corporate-dress culture to a changing workforce. A clear, definitive explanation of a corporate casual dress code is rare. What is acceptable at one mortgage broker’s office may be completely unacceptable at another – even if they are different branch offices of the same company.

Unclear code policies can also contribute to problems with employees taking advantage of the situation by wearing sloppy rather than casual attire to the office. In fact, many companies have been forced to issue specific guidelines describing appropriate attire after they have adopted casual dress policies.

Employee abuse has caused companies to ban such items as halter tops, stretch pants, jeans, shorts, sandals, and shirts without collars. In order to avoid this situation, business owners should spell out their dress codes clearly. It may be helpful to communicate the policies by including photos of employees wearing appropriate attire on bulletin boards, in company publications, and in employee manuals.

Another potential problem with casual office attire is that employees may tend to take work less seriously when they are dressed casually.

Some office workers prefer traditional, “business attire” because they believe it provides an equalizing factor for people of different ages or levels of the corporate hierarchy. After all, if everyone is wearing a suit and tie, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a CEO and a new hire. As a result, younger people may be more likely to be taken seriously in business meetings.

Of course, some people believe wearing a suit and tie simply makes dressing for work easier. Older men, in particular, tend to have trouble making the transition to casual dress. Men have clearly struggled more with casual day than women, who have never stuck to a corporate uniform and who have a wider selection when it comes to choosing attire.

Another reason people resist the movement toward office attire is worry about their credibility. Bosses are afraid they might lose the respect of their employees by dressing casually, for example, while employees are afraid they might lose out on promotions to better dressed co-workers. In the meantime, salespeople and others involved in relationships with clients often live in fear that a client will drop by the office and find them dressed casually. How you look goes a long way toward establishing your identity. What you wear say much about your character and credibility. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression – and there is nothing casual about it.

Formal office attire is prevalent in some industries, particularly those in which employees deal extensively with clients and need to project a professional, serious image. In most office settings, however, wearing a suit and tie can cause more problems than dressing casually. Donning a suit when you are not seeing a client or attending a formal meeting can project the image of being stuck in the past or shamelessly seeking the approval of the firm’s old-liners.

Although implementing casual dress policies can involve some potential pitfalls for businesses, most of these negative effects are unlikely to cause serious harm to the business. The goal of choosing casual attire for the office is to exude the same power, credibility, and authority as if you were wearing a suit. It is also important that the way you dress shows respect for your workplace and reflects your career goals. After all, dressing too sloppily can erode your self-confidence and make you appear unprofessional in the eyes of clients and employees.

Bernard Taiwo
I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.